Climate symbolism carries high costs

H. Sterling Burnett

During March 22 hearings before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, under questioning by Republican West Virginia Rep. David McKinley, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy acknowledged (once again) the Obama administration’s climate efforts will do nothing to protect public or environmental health. McCarthy instead said the efforts are merely a symbolic attempt to get other countries’ leaders to join the Paris climate agreement.

Concerning the Clean Power Plan, McKinley asked, “If it doesn’t have an impact on climate change around the world, why are we subjecting our hardworking taxpayers and men and women in the coalfields to something that has no benefit?”

“We see it as having had enormous benefit in showing sort of domestic leadership, as well as garnering support around the country for the agreement we reached in Paris,” McCarthy responded.

There is nothing new in McCarthy’s admission. In September 2013, in response to questions from Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican, concerning CPP, which was then under development, McCarthy said she couldn’t show it would have any effect on the 26 “climate indicators” being tracked by the Environmental Protection Agency. McCarthy said, “(The CPP was) part of an overall strategy … positioning the U.S. for leadership in an international discussion.”

In July 2015, McCarthy testified before the House Science Committee, where she said, “The value of (the CPP) is not measured (by the amount of warming it prevents). … I’m not disagreeing that this action in and of itself will not make all the difference we need to address climate action, but what I’m saying is that if we don’t take action domestically we will never get started.”

The domestic costs of climate symbolism are high. Regulations imposed by the Obama administration have already shuttered 265 coal-fired power units between 2009 and 2014, which took enough power offline to electrify 12.6 million homes. These closures cost 39,684 jobs at coal-fired electric power plants and thousands of other jobs at coal mines; at companies that provide services or machinery to the coal-mining, transportation or power-generation industries; and at retailers and restaurants where the newly unemployed used to shop and dine.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. warns that CPP will likely result in the closure of nearly five times more coal-fired power plants, which means hundreds of thousands of additional jobs could be lost. Consumers will also be directly harmed by CPP. A study produced by NERA Economic Consulting shows CPP could raise electricity rates by double digits, with ratepayers in the 28 states hardest hit by CPP possibly facing price spikes greater than 20 percent.

Poor and many middle-income families, which include many minorities and those on fixed incomes, spend a higher percentage of their money on energy and commodities that are heavily dependent upon energy consumption, such as food and transportation, than relatively wealthy families.

To some extent, the Obama administration’s symbolic climate policies have worked. They helped persuade 184 nations to agree to cut or cap their emissions at the Paris climate conference in December 2015, but even these commitments are only symbolic. The United Nations has acknowledged even if all the Paris-agreement nations keep their commitments, the impact on global temperature will be minimal. How long should the poor in developing countries be required to forgo the fossil-fuel dependent, lifesaving medical technologies we in the modernized Western world take for granted?

H. Sterling Burnett is a research fellow on energy and the environment at the Heartland Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.